What is “social justice”? The question is worth asking because anyone on the street you encounter who supports Chavez and his legacy in Venezuela, even the most untidy one, would tell you that the Bolivarian Revolution brought social justice to Venezuela.
Since there’s constant shortages of running water (and electricity), a service provided by the State, these staunch defenders will back their claim stating that every morning, their boss, the owner of the company they hate working for, smells as bad as them and has shoes are torn up as theirs.
The phrase “social justice” is brandished by any regular, silly, person. For instance, yesterday in the debate on RTVE the Spanish Socialist President, Pedro Sanchez, while talking about what is wrong with society, said that they hadn’t achieved social justice. The concept rests on the idea that there is an injustice in society and, since it is outrageous, the State has the right to correct it.
The notion of injustice ranges from poverty, extreme wealth, the alleged privileges of some groups to the increase in promiscuity presumably derived from the excessive production of pornographic material. It could be anything.
Aristotle examined the value of justice in Nicomachean Ethics. He called it “distributive justice”. The core concept is that each person should be allocated their just claim of public goods. However, those who govern are the ones who decide how the benefits or burdens must be shared. It must be defined by those who rule. They are the ones wise enough to interpret their citizens’ delusions. While Aristotle introduced the concept of distributive justice, John Rawls developed it to become synonymous with egalitarianism. Moreover, when we accept Rawl’s definition of justice, all inequality is, in fact, injustice.
The political left upholds egalitarianism and distributive justice. Marxism, right from its origins, sought nothing but the abolition of classes; and today, 21st Century Socialists promote the same. We must recognize it, without hesitation: the Bolivarian Revolution is a superb case of success in the application of social justice.
For a generation of Venezuelans educated under the Bolivarian ethic —one which fosters resentment, revenge, and plunder— there is no greater triumph than the embezzlement of an entire nation and, above all, its middle and upper class. Under the guise of solving societal problems by awarding justice, Hugo Chávez was able to dismantle all institutions and attack the values conceived by liberalism: namely, private property, individual, economic and political freedom.
Chavez’s measures included closing down companies, expropriating businesses, grossly widening state capacities, and devastating the country’s productive apparatus by obstructing all private initiative. The Venezuelan masses approved of every socialist measure enforced by Chavez and his succesor since they were confident that their actions complied with their desire for social justice: for years, an alleged elite, those unbearable bourgeoisie foreign names, had assaulted the poor people of the country. Finally, the ordinary people, the riffraff had political power. It was time for the tyranny of the proletariat.
“We’ll eat shit, but the revolution continues”, I heard a Chavez supporter say in an interview a couple of weeks ago. The revolution continues; it does not matter if those who still enjoy the miseries of Chavez-style communism, suffer the consequences of the imposition of social justice. The population that served as a stage for the rise of Hugo Chavez and later Nicolas Maduro conceives social justice as the degradation of the Venezuelan people who once had purchasing power. Their conquest is egalitarianism.
According to the Gini coefficient, which is the measure of inequality, Venezuela is one of the least unequal countries in the region. The state television channel VTV announced this arrogantly in January. The Maduro regime suggested that the Gini coefficient was 0.37, which would make Venezuela one of the most egalitarian countries on the continent where the distribution of wealth is concerned. Maduro’s claim may not be valid since the National Institute of Statistics last published data on inequality was in 2015. However, that year the coefficient was almost the same: 0.381.
To put things in perspective, the least unequal countries in South America according to the Gini coefficient are Uruguay with 0.39, El Salvador follows with 0.4; Haiti, with 0.41 and Argentina, 0.42.
In September 2012, the British media BBC reported that Venezuela was “the least unequal country in Latin America” according to a report by the United Nations. “The United Nations Program for Human Settlements (UN-Habitat), which measures inequality according to the Gini index, considers Venezuela ahead of Uruguay as the least equitable country in the region”, BBC reported.
The numbers coincide with the figures for 2015 and, if the trend continued, with that offered by Nicolás Maduro in January of this year.
In contrast, according to the inequality data for 2016, eight of the ten most unequal countries in the world are in the Americas: Honduras and Colombia with a Gini coefficient of 0.53, Brazil, 0.52, Panama, 0.51, Chile, 0.50, Costa Rica, 0.49, and Mexico, 0.49. Several countries on this list are, in fact, the most prosperous and free states in the region today.
Now, after this tedious display of figures, which demonstrates the existence of a general state of misery along with the Marxist idea in Venezuela, it is worth asking once again: what is social justice? Moreover, this question is critical because on April 23rd, Juan Guaido, the legitimate president of Venezuela, who opposes the socialist system of Nicolás Maduro, said in a press conference: “There was no socialism here because there is no social justice in Venezuela.” Well, it depends on whom you ask, Mr. President.
Let’s leave aside the issue of social or distributive justice, which naturally aspire for egalitarianism, even though it virtually is the equitable distribution of poverty. It is appropriate to examine Guaidó’s claim that there was never socialism in Venezuela since it implies that Chavez and Maduro’s economic policies were free market oriened, on the right.
Chavismo in Venezuela was characterized by subsidies, the gifts that the State could grant thanks to oil revenue, expropriations, attacks on private property, vengeful discourse, the vindication of social classes, massive concentration of power in the hands of a few, and the gradual expansion of the state. For example, today, Venezuela is ranked 179 out of 180 in the economic freedom index, second only to North Korea. These policies are by no means liberal or “neo-liberal”.
After Juan Guaidó’s statement, I said that there would come a time when the president’s supporters could not continue to ignore his flawed comments. My short-sightedness lasted for hours. It is impossible to look away primarily because we, who support Guaido, hope that he triumphs. When he triumphs, so will his project and ideas.
President Juan Guaidó must know very well the positions of his most important allies against socialism, the dangerous system that has devastated Venezuela. He must also be aware of the repercussions of his statement regarding international support, which is indispensable to achieve freedom in Venezuela.
In the United States, president Donald Trump, who has been one of Guaidó’s staunchest supporters, has said that socialism is what devastated Venezuela. That is right. However, Guaidó seemingly disagrees. Our president is more aligned with Pedro Sánchez than with Donald Trump.
Trying to dissociate the Venezuelan tragedy from its ideological roots is irresponsible. If one falls into the dangerous trap of saying that Venezuela has never had real socialism, Corina Yaris, a local philosopher, professor, and author explains it well in an article she wrote for El Nacional about why Venezuela is going through one of the stages of “communism/socialism”.
Attempts to divorce the underlying ideology of socialism from the realities of the situation in Venezuela will sabotage international support. If the destruction of a country caused by Chavez and his accomplices in the region, is beneficial in any way, it is to serve as a sign, precisely, that socialism does not work. Neither in the third world nor the first world.
Venezuela is socialist.